Date: Tue, 18 Apr, 2000

Makahs Return to the Sea for Whale Hunt

Coast Guard arrests two protesters, seizes boat

NEAH BAY, Wash. [AP] A Makah whaling family set out Monday in the tribe's first gray whale hunt of the spring, but the crew returned without killing a whale. The Coast Guard arrested two protesters and seized their boat.

While tribal leaders insist the seasonal hunt -- a centuries-old tradition that resumed after a 70-year absence with the first kill in May -- is vital to preserving the Makah identity, anti-whaling activists fear it could open the door to a worldwide renewal of commercial whaling.

Ben Johnson, chairman of the Makah Tribal Council, confirmed that tribal leaders had issued a 10-day whaling permit to the Paul Parker family.

A canoe carrying the whaling crew, and a motorized Makah support boat, returned here late Monday afternoon without killing a whale. A tribal whaling crew, with representatives from several families, took the Makah's first whale last May 17. Now the hunts are being conducted by Makah families, as tradition dictates.

Five families have been preparing to hunt as this year's spring gray whale migration from birthing grounds in Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska gets under way, tribal whaling commission president Keith Johnson said.

Protest groups led by Ocean Defense International have been monitoring the area by boat.

The Coast Guard is enforcing a 500-yard exclusion zone around the whale hunt, and said Monday's arrests and boat seizure were prompted by violation of that zone.

When the driver of the seized 23-foot boat refused to stop, the vessel was bumped or "shouldered" by a 21-foot Coast Guard boat, said Petty Officer Gino Burns in Seattle. When that didn't work, a 41-foot Coast Guard boat bumped the vessel, knocking down the two protesters on board.

The driver, Bill Moss of Olympia -- a member of the group World Whale Police -- was still in custody Monday afternoon, Burns said. The woman, who complained of back pain after her fall, was checked by a doctor and released.

Ocean Defense International spokesman Jonathan Paul identified her as Julie Woodyear of Toronto.

The Makah whaling tradition dates back thousands of years, but the hunts stopped in the 1920s as commercial whaling decimated populations. When the gray whale was taken off the Endangered Species List in 1994, the tribe moved to resume the practice, citing whaling rights granted under a 1855 treaty.

In 1997, the effort was cleared by the International Whaling Commission, which allocated the Makah 20 whales through 2004, a maximum of five per year.

The hunts, supported by the federal government, have pitted the Makah, their supporters and the federal government against animal-conservation activists.

When the tribe prepared to resume the hunts in late 1998, conservation groups staked out Neah Bay for months, hoping to protect the southbound fall migration. Several protest boats also were seized last year by the Coast Guard.

Copyright © Associated Press

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